All heroes will wear masks this year at the final Wizard World Chicago
Dress up like your favorite character. Buy some unique comic art or a new lightsaber. Get your picture taken with Capt. Kirk or The Incredible Hulk.
The comic-con traditions return this weekend to Rosemont for the last time as Wizard World Chicago -- the 23rd edition of the pop culture convention -- will be succeeded in 2022 by Fan Expo Chicago under its new owner, Fan Expo HQ.
After taking 2020 off for the obvious reasons, Wizard World decided its last hurrah before the rebranding should be right here in the suburbs.
"Chicago is a legacy event on the comic con circuit," said Andrew Moyes, vice president at Fan Expo HQ, last week by email. Moyes called Wizard World Chicago the longest-running and most highly attended event on the company's roster. "The Chicago fans are ready to be back at a convention!"
And being ready this year also means taking proper pandemic precautions -- everyone will be wearing a mask, not just the Jason Voorhees cosplayers.
"The uncertainty across all events in the past 20 months has made us extra cautious in ensuring the safest environment for fans," Moyes said, "while still making sure they get the most out of the weekend, and leave feeling like they can't wait until next year's event."
Wizard World is requiring all guests ages 2 and older to wear a mask at all times during the event, except while eating or drinking.
"We're also asking if fans are feeling unwell to stay home, wash and sanitize hands often, and keep their distance at the show, where possible," Moyes said.
The distancing applies to the convention layout, too.
"We've changed up the floor map, spreading out areas like registration and the prefunction area," Moyes said. "The space will look a bit different from the last show here in 2019, but we really like the layout and flow, from the exhibitor zone to Artist Alley to the celebrity area to photo ops."
Attendees will not be checked for vaccination cards, negative COVID test results or their temperatures at the event. More details about the convention's safety policies can be found online at wizardworld.com/health-and-safety.
More than 100 artists are scheduled for Artist Alley, the center of action on the convention floor where fans can meet the dreammakers and buy comic books, posters, unique art pieces and more.
Highlights include former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who will be on the alley Saturday, and Angel Medina, who worked on "The Avengers" and "The Amazing Spider-Man," among other comics.
A full programming schedule -- including live performances, gaming, panel discussions, photo ops and celebrity Q&A sessions -- can be found at wizardworld.com/schedule.
Celebrities? Yes, they're coming back, too, and you can pay extra fees for autographs and photos.
The aforementioned Capt. Kirk and Hulk will be back -- William Shatner appears on Sunday, and Lou Ferrigno will be on hand all three days of the event. "Outlander" stars Sam Heughan (Saturday) and Graham McTavish (Saturday and Sunday) will be back, too, as will "Supernatural" baddie Mark Sheppard (all three days), "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "The Suicide Squad" star Michael Rooker (Saturday and Sunday) and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" vamp James Marsters (all three days), who also will perform an unplugged set at a Friday night concert with separate admission ($25; $125 for a backstage ticket).
Other guests include Disney voice actors Paige O'Hara (Belle) and Irene Bedard ("Pocahontas"); "Harry Potter" hero Neville Longbottom, aka Matthew Lewis; and "Once Upon a Time's" evil queen, Lana Parrilla. Appearances are subject to change.
So, precautions aside, it sounds like Rosemont's annual gathering of fanatics will be the same colorful celebration of comics and commerce that we've grown to love over the years. How will Moyes measure success for this, the final Wizard World Chicago being held during a pandemic?
"Primarily, it's the same as always: delivering an experience that exceeds attendees' expectations."
• • •
Wizard World Chicago
What: The long-running pop culture convention returns
When: 4-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17
Where: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road, Rosemont
Tickets: $39.99 Friday, $59.99 Saturday, $49.99 Sunday, $89.99 for three-day pass
Add-ons: VIP packages, autograph and photo-op tickets available
Buy and learn more at: wizardworld.com